Clarence Page has been a columnist for The Chicago Tribune since 1984. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1989. Cultural Worrier: Reflections on Race, Politics and Social Change, Selected Columns 1984-2014 is just what the title says it is: a collection of Page's newspaper columns organized by topic and by date within a topic.
Page is black and has been accused of being a conservative by liberals and of being a liberal by conservatives. Based on what I read in these columns, however, I don't think either label will stick. Rather, Page as a good journalist uses facts to make observations and to draw conclusions. One might argue with his conclusions (I didn't), but the 172 columns here are thoroughly grounded in reality. Page is not a mouthpiece for one ideology or another.
In describing his approach, Page says, "I try to set my moral compass to
what's best for America's families, not what's best for a particular
political party or interest group. My perspective hasn't changed much,
but the world has. I've always portrayed myself as a good Midwestern,
middle-of-the-road voice for the sensible center. I am amused when
people paint me as a hard-core liberal or hard-core conservative, based
on the same column!" I suspect he is less amused when whites call him a
racist for criticizing a "white" ideas and blacks call him an Uncle Tom
for criticizing a black figure.
The scope of the chapters is exceptionally wide: Breaking News; Gaffes, Goofs and Gotchas (reducing political discourse to jumping on one careless statement); Weaponized Umbrage; Bill Cosby's Culture War; Political Language Arts; Diversity Anxiety; Profiling: The Acceptable Prejudice; Giants Worth Remembering (among them Justice Marshall, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Coretta Scott King, and more); Crime and Cures; Prison Pipelines, Reversing the Flow; Obama World vs. Palin Nation; Tea Party Cultural Wars; How the Party of Lincoln Lost People of Color; Black Conservatives Offer Remedies, Too; Big Ideas: A Pursuit of Whatever Works; Marriage Slips Out of Style; Wooing Women's Votes.
Page says, "I write about racial issues more often than most white columnists do"—which is one reason why this book is so valuable to this white, middle-class reviewer. "But when I write about climate change, mortgage defaults, student loans, the obesity epidemic, the future of public education, are those racial issue? Maybe not on the surface, but my experience informs my awareness of how differently those issues play out in white communities compared to communities of color."
For example, Page writes about a 1996 speech Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan gave to a gathering of black journalists where he said, "White folks did not hire you to really represent what black people are really thinking, and you don't really tell them what you think because you are too afraid. A scared-to-death Negro is a slave, you slave writers, slave media people." Page says not everyone was impressed. Many were annoyed that Farrakhan would "stereotype black journalists as broadly, ignorantly and destructively as any white editor ever has. Nowhere in the Farrakhan journalism lecture was there a word said about the possibility that one could maybe sometimes disagree with Louis Farrakhan and still be black."
Because the columns stretch from 1984 to 2014, many by necessity reflect history in the making and are valuable to remind readers of old battles, some won, some continuing still. My only quibble with the book is the lack of follow-up. Occasionally I'd like to know what finally happened. How did the situation turn out?
Nevertheless, Cultural Worrier is a stimulating and interesting collection by a careful and thoughtful commentator on American life, black and white.